Ghosts: Solos and Duets

Chris ARRELL (b.1970)
1 Ghosts (2006) [8:23]
2 Metamorphosis No. 3 (2001) [3:41]
Pamela J. MARSHALL (b.1954)
3 Summer into Winter (2007) [3:15]
Harry BULOW (b. 1951)
4 Syntax II (1984) [5:17]
Ken METZ (b.1954)
5-8 Southwestern Sketches (2008) [8:22]
Andrew BONACCI (b.1969)
9 The Caged Bird (2003) [5:37]
Carson COOMAN (b.1982)
10 Estampie (2008) [3:35]
11-12 Ancient Airs [7:26]
Charles CACIOPPO (b.1983)
13 Piece for Unaccompanied Clarinet (2003) [3:38]
Stephen YIP (b.1971)
14 Hundun [10:20]
Rhonda Taylor (baritone saxophone)
Darel Stark (violin)
Monica Duncan
Ikuko Arai (clarinet)
Harry Bulow (saxophone)
Cristina Webster (flute)
Philip Digby
Maurice Smith (violins)
Paul Wehage (soprano saxophone)
Megan Levin (harp)
Shawn Conley (double-bass)
rec. 2006, 4th Annual Festival of Contemporary Music, Oakland, California [1]
2006, Red Elephant Café, Honolulu, HI [2]
2008, Studio 251, Gloucester, MA [3 + 9]
2003, Center for Music Technology at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte [4]
2008, UMKC Recording Studio, Kansas City [5-8]
2005, Central Studio, Independence, MO [10]
2005, Musik Fabrik Studios, Lagny-sur-Marne, France [11,12]
2005, Recital Hall, Purchase College SUNY, NY [13]
2005, Lilian H Duncan Recital Hall, Shepherd School of Music, Rice University, TX [14]. DDD


This disc contains a series of American instrumental solos and duos. The connection between the composers or their works is not immediately apparent, and nor is it explained in the sleeve-notes.

The programme opens with the title track, Ghosts by Chris Arrell, for solo baritone saxophone, performed capably here by Rhonda Taylor. Arrell’s writing calls for melodic lines interspersed with an increasing number of gasping breaths, air sounds and other contemporary techniques. The intention seems to be to create a seamless transition between the known and the unknown, and although the effect works well initially, the musical material was not enough to maintain my interest for the entire eight and a half minute duration. John Carollo’s short Metamorphosis No. 3 for solo violin has considerable charm and is heard here in a controlled performance by Darel Stark.

The mellow tones of Monica Duncan’s clarinet follow, in Pamela J. Marshall’s Summer into Winter. Based on the text of Shakespeare’s Sonnet No. 5, the music has a sense of gentle poetry in both the composition and its performance. Harry Bulow’s Syntax II for saxophone is played with a wonderful jazz-like tone by the composer on the saxophone. The opening mood is delicate, using timbral contrasts and expansive phrases, before building into a frenzy of trills and virtuoso note patterns. This is a highly enjoyable piece which has much to offer.

Southwestern Sketches by Ken Metz is a four movement work for solo flute which pays homage to native American flute music. There are many works in existence based on a similar theme, and while this piece is well crafted and enjoyable, with a good sense of contrast between the movements, it fits very much into a certain style of flute writing. I do not intend for that comment to sound unduly harsh; the music is well played by Cristina Webster and has much to offer. A second clarinet piece follows, again played by Monica Duncan. Andrew Bonacci’s The Caged Bird begins in a subdued mood which is interspersed with moments of activity, enabling the listener to imagine the creature of the title.

The first duo on the disc is Carson Cooman’s Estampie for two violins. This is an enjoyable work which contains much within its three and a half minute duration. Cooman’s combination of modal and atonal languages works surprisingly effectively, and the work’s energy is well conveyed by violinists Digby and Smith. By the same composer, Ancient Airs for soprano saxophone is recorded with much reverb, which is effective in the slower sections of the work but creates a lack of detail in the faster sections. Paul Wehage, the work’s dedicatee, plays well, although Cooman’s combination of musical languages, building in ‘tones from other modalities’ is less convincing here.

The simplicity of Charles Cacioppo’s musical language comes as something of a surprise after Cooman’s works, but soon settles into its own world. The 2003 Piece for Unaccompanied Clarinet has a sense of being based on the style of a study, with moments of expressive melodic writing combined with more florid technical requirements based on scalic patterns. The final work on the disc is Stephen Yip’s imaginative Hundun for harp and double bass, which has a strong Eastern influence and a distinct compositional voice. Based on Chinese legend, the work makes extensive use of the available sonorities from these two instruments, creating a fascinating sound world and some well considered textures which maintain interest throughout the work’s ten minute duration.

This is an interesting combination of works, with some strengths of individual style and other, more generic works. The playing from the instrumentalists is consistently good, serving the composers well, but rarely world class. Recording projects such as this, which document new works by young or less established composers are often the result of a lot of effort and passion by those who make them, frequently with limited resources. These efforts deserve to be rewarded, and I hope this music will be heard.

Carla Rees

These efforts deserve to be rewarded, and I hope this music will be heard.